Bombs Away

Atomic Blonde is the kind of film for which the term ‘high octane’ was invented. However, it is not the gun fights, car chases, fist fights or flights from danger that define the film. What does? The clue is in the title. The protagonist is a woman. Charlize Theron plays the Blonde, whose name is Lorraine Broughton, and does so with a great deal of skill and even more cool.

Atomic Blonde is well written, which is more than can be said for Broughton herself. Throughout the film she remains a mystery in terms of who she is, her motivation for behaving in the way she does, her true feelings towards other people – even a lover – and so forth.

This can partly be explained by the film’s desire to keep the audience guessing as to what will happen next, but it also means that the film, as well made as it is, remains a shallow one. It is comparable, in this respect, to most of the James Bond films (Casino Royale excepted).

Speaking of Bond, while he is surely a source of inspiration for Atomic Blonde the film’s spiritual father has to be the Jason Bourne pictures. This is particularly the case in its stylised fighting sequences.

And it builds upon Bourne in how it shows the consequences of those fights. Jason Bourne fights and we see something of his injuries afterwards (e.g. the opening sequence to The Bourne Ultimatum). Broughton, fights and not only do we see all her cuts and bruises afterwards but even during the fight we see her (and her opponent) wheezing and barely able to get to their feet. This is the most impressive aspect of the picture and – despite its narrative shallowness – elevates the film from being standard action fare to something different, perhaps special.

I hope Atomic Blonde is a success. It’s good to see a female lead in this kind of picture. May it continue until it becomes not worth mentioning. And I hope the will be a sequel. We have unfinished business with Lorraine Broughton. A film that told her story would provide a context for this film and deepen our understanding of her character, adding depth to the two films as a whole.

Atomic Blonde poster: Coming Soon
Broughton battered and bruised: Esquire

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The Story of a People

If I was a creative writing teacher I would tell my students that in order to be successful, their stories must have a plot and characters that exist in harmony.

If one is stronger at the other’s expense then the story will fail.

As you can see, I would be a very bad teacher because there is only rule in creative writing that really counts and that is the one that says ‘all rules are there to be broken’.

As with books, so with films. And Dunkirk is the proof.

Since its release a few weeks ago, I have seen the film three times, and have enjoyed it each and every time.

If I followed my own rule, however, I should have hated it – the film prioritises plot over character. Why then do I like it? Why do I believe it is a narrative success?

The answer lies with the characters. In terms of their representation as real people, they are very weak – throughout the film we are barely told their names let alone their story. As types, however, they are strong. Dunkirk is Everyman updated. We see this in the lead character’s name – Tommy; that is a personal name but was also the nickname of British soldiers as a whole during this period. We follow, therefore, not only the individual Tommy’s journey, but through him, the journey of all the soldiers on the beach.

The same applies to the other characters. Even when we know their names, the lack of information given about them, calls us to see them as representatives of whichever part of the British army – or civilian life – they belong to.

The film goes further still. The lack of character back story and dialogue strips away the main barriers to feeling their emotions as our own. Tommy and co are not just Everymen but in their fear and hope, mistakes and successes, are you and I if we were on that beach.

Everyman was last popular in the Middle Ages so Dunkirk is a pretty brave piece of story telling. Credit has to go not only to Christopher Nolan for writing it but Warner Brothers for paying for it. Dunkirk is Hollywood at its most creative and therefore best.

Fionn Whitehead The Independent
Kenneth Branagh Variety

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Close in the Distance

A belated happy anniversary of 129th birth to T. E. Lawrence who was born on 16th August 1888.

I have a little pantheon of historical figures whom I admire and love. Alexander the Great is chief among them but there is also David Hogarth, Ralph Bagnold, Patrick Leigh-Fermor, Evelyn Waugh, G. K. Chesterton, Hilaire Belloc, C. S. Lewis, J. R. R. Tolkien…

… the list goes on, and I like to think that if I met them I would get on with them. This is nonsense, of course; I’d be too shy, much too shy, to say anything. However, a small part of me still rebels against this idea.

Except, I have to admit, in the case of Lawrence. I admire him for the way he helped the Arab cause during the First World War. In the books I read about him, however, he comes across as being so mercurial, deeply contrary, and if not antagonistic to the world then one who was not wholly a part of it. And to add to it all, I’m not sure he totally understood or was totally at one with himself.

I know, I know, all this is just armchair psychologising. Take what I have said with a big pinch of salt (or better still, read a book about TEL to see what you think). However, the feeling remains…

And it’s ironic because I can relate to at least one of the attributes above – contrariness. I like being contrary just for the sake of it or if I am rubbed up the wrong way. It doesn’t draw me closer to Lawrence, though. I suppose, how could it?

So, T. E. Lawrence, I admire from afar because he died in 1935 but even if he were alive today, I would still keep my distance.

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Korrasami Returns

Spoiler Alert!

I have just read the part one of the newly released Legend of Korra graphic novel, Turf Wars.

It picks up directly from where the animated series ends – with Korra and Asami walking hand-in-hand through the portal into the spirit world.

Their stay is brief, and soon, they are back in their own world where, it transpires, same sex relationships are no more likely to be accepted than in the real world.

As I read Turf Wars, Korrasami‘s coming out to Korra’s family and their friends, had a dislocating feel to it. It was as if I was being jolted out of Korra’s universe and back into my own – bad story telling.

Afterwards, I thought about my reaction and came to the conclusion that actually, it wasn’t bad story telling at all, but the fault of how we – to a degree, I – in the real world see same sex relationships.

The Legend of Korra animated series is as full of relationships as it is heroic battles against powerful enemies. Boyfriends, girlfriends, husbands, wives, weddings… they all feature; and when I watched the series, I did not bat an eyelid at any of them.

Why? Because such things are a wholly accepted part of life. Unfortunately, however, I live in a society up until the last twenty or so years same sex relationships have not been so accepted. And of course, in some places, and many people, they still aren’t. For my part, I do accept them. More than that, I would happily be in one. But, it seems, I still live with the baggage of the past influencing how I see things in the present.

The good news is that a problem identified is a problem that is on the way to being solved. I have no doubt that the positive representation of The Legend of Korra will in the long run help me with that.

That’s enough of me. I’m sorry for hijacking Turf Wars. Back to the comic – It was great seeing not just Korra and Asami but their friends, especially Bolin and Mako and Zhu Li (though no sight of the wonderfully ridiculous Varrick, sadly). It made up for the story, which, to be honest, felt a little lack lustre. A businessman wants to create an amusement park around the portal and take tourists through it; a new gang leader is causing trouble on the streets. All very es geht so but – not very thrilling. I hope that this is just a case of first issue-itis and things will pick up with Part Two.

Only one thing really disappointed me about Turf Wars Part One and that is the artwork. In regards Korra and Asami it seemed to fall far short of the animated series. Don’t let me overstate this. The two women looked pretty much like themselves throughout but sometimes they did so more, and on other occasions (though fewer, thankfully) less.

Finally, Part Two is due for release in January 2018. I don’t understand that kind of schedule at all. Surely, it rips away the momentum that Part One creates?

So, for me Turf Wars Part One is a slightly generous 7.5 out of 10. If you enjoyed the animated series I think you would certainly enjoy this. If you haven’t seen it – to be honest, I would watch it first but the graphic novel doesn’t demand that you have a deep knowledge of what went before so you could easily dive straight in.

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The Wolf Among Us Pt. 1

6th August 2017

I started playing The Wolf Among Us in June. 11th June to be precise. I enjoyed playing it but the game didn’t really take me. I know this because the second time I played it was… yesterday.

And even then, although I really did want to play it, I have to be honest and say that half of the reason I am playing it is because I want to clear my gaming decks for the new Life is Strange and Uncharted games that are being released soon.

I have storified my tweets from the 11th June session alongside yesterday’s and today’s. The reason for this is that there are far fewer of them overall than there were for The Last of Us. I knew that game pretty well before playing it so didn’t need to concentrate as much. The Wolf Among Us, however, I am a lot less familiar with so it needs a little more concentration and less tweeting.

My first impression of Wolf is that it is really is a sad story – just like fairy tales are, I suppose (the traditional ones, that is). Firstly, in the murders. Secondly, in the exile of the fairy tale characters from their homeland. Thirdly, in the way that they are forced to live – some in very reduced circumstances indeed. This sadness is in the fabric of the game. On the surface, it appears as a thoughtful-adventure story.

As of today, I have completed the first two episodes. Three are still to go.

Read my storify tweets here

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The Last of Us Pt. 10

What happened? I forgot, that’s what happened. As you can see below, I wrote this post on 6th June. And then forgot to publish it. So here it is now.

Tuesday, 6th June 2017

A day off work gave me the opportunity to experience betrayal, murder and lies at the end of The Last of Us.

I am writing these words two days after finishing the game and I am still on a high at having been able to play it. As I mention in the tweets, I wanted to for three years but didn’t think it would ever happen. I very much look forward to The Last of Us 2. For now, though, one last thank you to The JHN Files for deciding to live stream his playthrough of the game in 2013. In doing so, he put me on the road to the happiness I feel now. Grazie mille, John!

Read my tweets here

Credit Where It’s Due
Troy Baker (Joel) & Ashley Johnson (Ellie) in their motion capture suits: Polygon

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Sunstone by Stjepan Sejic

Sunstone is a five part graphic novel series by Croatian artist and writer Stjepan Sejic.

Allison and Lisa are both into BDSM. They meet on an internet forum dedicated to the subject. Then they meet in real life. And no, they do not meet for a coffee.

Allison is a domme in search of a sub. Lisa is a sub in search of a domme. When Lisa arrives at Allison’s house, the fun and games – literally – begin.

It doesn’t take long, however, for problems to begin. Allison and Lisa meet as friends; friends who have a particular ‘kink’ and want to explore it with each other. So far so good.

Very quickly, however, Lisa starts falling in love with her mistress (aka ‘Allycat’ as Allison is known on the internet). For her part, Allison falls in love with Lisa not long after that. So far so normal. The only problem is, they don’t tell each other. The five volume series explores the consequences of their reticence in ways that are sometimes comic, sometimes sad, sometimes silly, sometimes bad. If you stick with the series until the end of Book Five, however, you will walk away from it with a glad heart.

I won’t say out loud how Book Five ends but put it this way, if Richard Curtis wrote a story based around a BDSM relationship, he would have written Sunstone. Don’t snarl at me – that’s a compliment; I love Four Weddings and a Funeral, Notting Hill and Love, Actually and Sunstone has the same gentle heart, good humour and happy spirit as all those’ films.

Of course, it isn’t exactly like them. It’s about BDSM, something that probably doesn’t exist in Richard Curtis’ fictional worlds. On that point, should you buy the graphic novel, be mindful: Sunstone is very graphic in its portrayal of BDSM practices (that sounds far too clinical. ‘BDSM sessions’ is a better way to say it). Unless your domme (or dom*?) tells you otherwise, you might not want to read this on the bus or underground.

Having said that, don’t go away thinking that Sunstone is vulgar. It isn’t. Quite the reverse, in fact. Although Allison and Lisa get up to things that may seem wholly outré, Sejic’s very evident respect for his characters stops the story becoming merely pornographic.

If anything, Sejic likes his characters too much. I certainly thought this when, halfway through the series, he revealed the ultimate conclusion of their relationship (the story is told by Lisa and takes place five years (?) in the past).

Against that thought, he implies how Allison’s and Lisa’s relationship ‘ends’ at the start of the first book so you could argue that the story isn’t a will they/won’t they stay together as friends/become lovers but an exploration of how they arrive as — well, what we know or at least can guess them to now be from the start.

Anyway, Sunstone was a good, fun read and I highly recommend it. You can read the series as a simple love story (if love is ever simple) or use it as a springboard into a discussion of deeper issues or morality. Either way, it is a very rewarding work.

*I am assuming that in BDSM dom = dominator (male) and domme = dominatrix (female). Let me know if I am wrong

Sunstone Vol. 4 cover: Comixology
Sunstone Vol. 5 front cover: Red Comics

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